The Beatles flew from Hong Kong to Sydney, stopping en route in Darwin to allow their aeroplane to refuel. Although it was an unscheduled stop, 400 fans were waiting as they landed in Darwin at 2.35am.
None of us slept on the flight to Australia. There were reports of impossible weather on the eastern seaboard and as we flew on into the night, over the maddened sea and through the storm-crazed sky, I trusted in my purple prose and Their invincibility to get us there intact. We made a refuelling stop in Darwin, just in case we had to divert from Sydney (for the fans, God forbid such a necessity); but despite the short notice, the word was out and there was a good-sized crowd awaiting us when we landed. The Darwin welcome was, for me, compensation for the disappointment we had caused at the earlier, scheduled stops on the flight from England. It is more blessed to give than to deprive, and at Darwin The Beatles certainly gave. They were, like the rest of us, genuinely excited; this was a long, long way from home – indeed, from anywhere.
Australia! Euphony in the name; splendour and romance. What did we know of this unimaginably large island-dominion? Precious little. I have an imperfect memory of the short time we spent in the Darwin airport buildings; large windows, a balcony; darkness, cheering fans, a lot of good-natured babble into tape-recorders; a talkative John, full of fun, pushing and shoving his friends like a schoolboy in a bus queue.
Fifty Years Adrift
A crowd of around 2,000 greeted the band at Sydney’s Mascot International Airport.
The storm at Sydney airport was beyond belief. I had not known rain like it and of course like all sudden unexpected acts of violence, it was a shock to our systems. In all of our mental pictures, the arrival in Australia, the magical descent from the aircraft, now an expected and famously framed aspect of The Madness, the first sight of the Four Heads had not been imagined in rain. No, in the mind’s eye it had been sunny, dry, warm and gentle with scarves and flags waving in the light breeze…
The Beatles said there would be no chance of leaving the plane in such weather. The plane touched down, sending huge rippling waves down the runway. We were, now, finally in Australia. Somewhere behind the pounding of the rain and the roar of the engines in reverse there was another sort of noise. A high relentless scream. A scream which went on and on. The fans. Five thousand of them. Drenched, bruised and battered by the rain, taut and jumpy with anticipation, herded by the police. But still there, screaming and still loyal.
Fifty Years Adrift
Although it was cold and raining heavily, The Beatles were paraded for the crowd on the back of an open-top truck.
When we arrived in Sydney it was pissing down with rain. We got off the plane and they put The Beatles on the back of a flat-back truck so the crowd could see them. They were carrying umbrellas and wearing the capes made in Hong Kong. The driver was doing one mile an hour, and John kept leaning over and saying, ‘Faster, faster!’ but he wouldn’t go any faster. I was saying, ‘Go faster – it’s pouring down,’ and he said, ‘These kids have been waiting here for twenty-four hours to see these guys.’
Nothing was going to make this big Australian trucker go any faster. By the time they got to the hotel everybody was blue because the dye in the capes had run and soaked right through; they all looked like old Celtic warriors covered in blue dye.
Alarmingly, a woman ran to the truck and threw her six-year-old mentally-handicapped child at The Beatles, shouting, “Catch him, Paul,” in the hope that The Beatles could provide a cure. Fortunately, McCartney did catch the terrified boy, who was reunited with his mother as soon as the truck could be stopped.
Following the airport parade The Beatles went through customs and immigrations procedures, and spoke to the press.
The Beatles’ hotel, the Sheraton, was in Potts Point, Sydney. They had been turned down by the nearby Chevron-Hilton due to concerns about crowd control. Their manager, Brian Epstein, however, did stay at the Chevron.
The Chevron Hilton Hotel in Sydney wouldn’t let us in because they didn’t want all the fuss, so we had to stay at the one across the street. However, they got the crowds standing in front of their hotel, all looking across to ours, and so they had the same sort of trouble anyway.
Fifty Years Adrift, Derek Taylor
The band’s luggage arrived later but John Lennon and Paul McCartney had spare clothes to change into, with Lennon borrowing a pair of trousers from press officer Derek Taylor. George Harrison waved to fans from the balcony dressed in just a bath towel.
I used to hate waving from balconies. ‘Wave,’ they’d say. ‘You’ve got to go and wave.’ Derek used to wave for me out of hotel windows.
Although they were unable to leave their hotel, in the evening The Beatles gave a series of interviews, press conferences and photography sessions, and met a number of concert promoters and local dignitaries.
The Sydney press conference gave us a very good start in Australia. The weightier communicators were approving, and the fan-club secretaries were thrilled beyond expectation. Not only were The Boys Fab and Four (Ringo’s absence notwithstanding), they were flesh and blood, funny and nice and here. I was a contented man. Almost all of the media was giving us a Fab Rap, and that night I celebrated with Scotch and Coke, brandy and soda, buckets of ice and oysters and pills at The Chequers night-club. Neil and Jimmie Nicol came with me – maybe others, too, though not George, John or Paul. Frances Faye, an old jazz heroine, was the cabaret act. On hearing that Nicol was in the house, she had the audience call for him to ‘dep’ on drums’; he was happy to oblige and did a long and very good set. Next day, hung over and tired to the point of exhaustion, I joined the rested Beatles for the flight to Adelaide. It was still raining. There were fans everywhere and it was a relief to board the plane.
Fifty Years Adrift
Also on this day, Ringo Starr was discharged from University College Hospital, London, allowing him to fly to Australia to rejoin the group.
Also on this day...
- 2018: Ringo Starr live: Stadtpark, Hamburg, Germany
- 2015: Paul McCartney live: Stade de France, Paris, France
- 2014: Ringo Starr live: NYCB Theatre at Westbury, Westbury, New York
- 2009: Yoko Ono honoured by Mojo magazine
- 1979: US album release: Back To The Egg by Wings
- 1968: Recording, mixing: Blackbird, Revolution 9
- 1968: Paul McCartney and Mary Hopkin are filmed for Apple Records
- 1968: George Harrison films a second scene for Ravi Shankar’s Raga
- 1965: The Beatles to be awarded MBEs
- 1962: Radio: Teenager’s Turn – Here We Go
- 1961: Live: Top Ten Club, Hamburg
- 1960: Live: Grosvenor Ballroom, Wallasey
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.
On that very same day I sailed into Freemantle with my husband and five-year-old son. We knew nothing about the Beatles back then. It was much later that I’ve become their fan.